Search for the lands discovered by the French—Kerguelen Islands—Stay at Van Diemen's Land—Queen Charlotte's Strait—Palmerston Island—Grand rejoicings in the Tonga Islands.

At this date the idea which had sent so many explorers to Greenland was in full force. The question of the existence of a northern passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific, by way of the Asiatic or American coasts, was eagerly discussed: and should such a passage exist, was it practicable for ships? The attempt had quite lately been made, to discover this outlet in Hudson or Baffin Bays, and it was now determined to seek it in the Pacific.

The task was an arduous one. The Lords of the Admiralty felt that it was essential to send out a navigator who had experience of the dangers of the Polar Seas, and one who had shown presence of mind in the face of danger; one moreover, whose talents, experience, and scientific knowledge might be of use in the powerful equipment then in course of preparation.

In Captain Cook alone were all the requisite qualities to be found. The command was offered to him, and although he might have passed the remainder of his days in peace at his post in the Greenwich Observatory, in the full enjoyment of the honour and glory he had gained by his two voyages round the world, he did not hesitate for a moment.

Two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, were placed under his command. The latter was under the orders of Captain Clerke; and the equipment of both was similar to that of the last expedition.

The instructions given to the commander of the expedition, enjoined his reaching the Cape of Good Hope, and steering south in search of the islands recently discovered by the French, in 48 degrees of latitude, towards the meridian of the island of Mauritius. He was then to touch at New Zealand, if he thought well, to take in refreshments at the Society Islands, and to land the Tahitan Mai there; then to proceed to New Albion, to avoid landing in any of the Spanish possessions in America, and from thence to make his way by the Arctic Ocean to Hudson and Baffin Bays. In other words he was to look in an easterly direction for the north-west passage. This once effected, after a stay at Kamschatka, he was to make another attempt to reach England by the route he might judge most productive of good results for geography and navigation.

The two vessels did not start together. The Resolution set sail from Plymouth on the 12th of July, 1776, and was rejoined at the Cape by the Discovery on the 10th of the following November, she having left England only on the 1st of August.

The two ships were detained at the Cape until the 30th of November, by the repairs needed by the Discovery. Much damaged by tempest, she required calking. The captain profited by this long delay, to buy live stock, which he intended to land at Tahiti and New Zealand, and also to stock his vessels with the necessary stores for a two-years' voyage.

After steering southwards for twelve days, two islands were discovered in 46° 53' south latitude, and 37° 46' east longitude. The strait which separates them was crossed, and it was found that their steep sterile coasts were uninhabited. They had been discovered with four others, from nine to twelve degrees further east, by the French Captains Marion-Dufresne and Crozet, in 1772.

On the 24th of December, Cook found the islands which M. de Kerguelen had surveyed in his two voyages of 1772, 1773.

Kerguelen Islands
Kerguelen Islands.

We will not here relate the observations made by Cook upon this group. As they agree in every particular with those of M. de Kerguelen, we can reserve them until we relate the adventures of that navigator, and content ourselves with remarking that Cook surveyed the coasts carefully, and left them on the 31st of December. The vessels were enveloped in a thick fog, which accompanied them for more than 300 leagues.

Anchor was cast in Adventure Bay, in Van Diemen's Land, on the 26th of January. It was the same spot at which Captain Furneaux had touched four years earlier. The English were visited by a few natives, who received the presents offered to them, without showing any satisfaction.

The narrative says,—

"They were of ordinary height, but rather slightly built. Their skin was black and their hair of the same colour, and as woolly as that of the negroes of New Guinea, but they had not the thick lips or flat noses of African negroes. There was nothing disagreeable in their features, and their eyes struck us as beautiful, so did their teeth, but they were very dirty. Most of them anointed their hair and beards with a yellow ointment, and some even rubbed their faces with the same stuff."

Concise as this account is, it is not the less valuable. The race of Tasmanians is extinct, the last of them died a few years ago.